Site icon Random Scottish History

Ayrshire, pp.89-92.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   AYRSHIRE, a large and important county on the south-west coast of Scotland, which derives its name from the town just described. It is bounded by Renfrewshire on the north and north-east; by the counties of Lanark and Dumfries on the east; by the stewartry of Kirkcudbright on the south-east; by Wigtonshire on the south; and by Loch Ryan, the North channel, and the frith of Clyde on the west. The length of Ayrshire, from Galloway burn upon the north side of Loch Ryan, to Kelly burn which divides it from Renfrewshire, is, by the public road, 90, and in a direct line 60 miles, the difference being occasioned by the curvature of the coast; its breadth from east to west is in some places 30 miles. Its average length does not, however, extend to above 80 miles, while in average breadth it may be about 20. It contains, according to Mr. Aiton, whose admeasurements we are now following, 1,600 square miles; but, according to Sir John Sinclair’s calculations founded on Arrowsmith’s map, only 1,045 square miles; we are inclined to think Mr. Aiton’s admeasurement over-estimated, while Sir John’s is probably greatly under-estimated. “Ayrshire is in nearly the form of a half-moon, concave towards the sea, and convex on the land side. A considerable part of Carrick, and some parts of Kyle and Cunningham towards the inland verges, are hilly; and that part of Ayrshire which borders with the counties of Dumfries and Galloway justly merits the name of mountainous. A chain or group of mountains commences at Saint Abb’s head on the verges of the shires of Berwick and East Lothian; runs westward the whole breadth of the island, on the boundaries of the Lothians and the county of Roxburgh, and between those of Lanark and Ayr on the north, and Dumfries and Galloway on the south; and terminates at the rock of Ailsa. Richard, who wrote in the 12th century, and is the earliest Scots writer certainly known, denominates this range of mountains the Uxellum Montes. Some of the highest of the mountains in this chain are situated in the neighbouring counties; but a considerable range of the south and eastern parts of Carrick is mountainous, and forms a part of that group of mountains, abounding with lochs, and very barren. A large range of Ayrshire, from the foot of the water of Doon, to the north of Ardrossan harbour, is a plain open country, neither level nor hilly, but rising from the shore in a gradual easy acclivity, till it terminates in mountains on the south-east, and moorish hills on the eastern boundaries. No part of it can be termed level; for the surface abounds with numerous swells or roundish hills which facilitate the escape of moisture, promote ventilation, and diversify and ornament the face of the country. The prospects from some of these eminences are uncommonly rich and variegated. On ascending any of the little heights, in almost any part of the county, you have a delightful view of the frith of Clyde, the beautiful hills of Arrar and Ailsa, rising out of the sea, a large tract of Ayrshire, the Highland hills, and the coast of Ireland.” [Aiton’s ‘General View of the Agriculture of the County of Ayr.’ Glasgow, 1811. 8vo. pp. 2, 3.] The principal elevations are on the southern border of Carrick, in the parish of COLMONNELL: which see.1 On the western skirts of the parish of Muirkirk there are some lofty hills, the most conspicuous of which is Cairntable, which rises to an altitude of 1,650 feet above sea-level. 

   The climate is similar to that of other districts situated on the western coast of Britain. For more than two-thirds of the year the wind blows from the south-west, and the rains are often copious, and sometimes of long duration. – The principal rivers of Ayrshire are: the Garnock, a small stream, which rises on the borders of Renfrewshire, 10 miles above Kilwinning, flows southward, receives the Lugton, and falls into the harbour of Irvine; the Irvine, which has its source near Loudon hill, on the confines of Lanarkshire, and thence proceeds westward by Derval, Newmills, Galston, Riccarton, &c, until augmented by many rivulets it flows into the sea at Irvine; the Ayr, already described, which holds a western course nearly parallel to the Irvine; and the Doon, from Loch Doon, on the north border of Kirkcudbrightshire, which flows north-north-west to the sea near the mouth of the Ayr. The Girvan and the Stinchar or Ardstinchar two inconsiderable streams, issue from small lakes near the border of Kirkcudbrightshire, and flow south-west to the North channel into which they fall, the former at Girvan, and the latter at Ballantrae. All these rivers receive further notice in separate articles. Their course is short, and, as they all rise on or near the inland boundaries, indicates the general basin-like outline of the county. – The principal loch is LOCH DOON: which see. There are several small lochs in different quarters of the county. 

   Clay or argillaceous earth is the most common soil in this county, and in different quarters it has been found from 40 to 200 feet in depth. This species of soil is naturally so tenacious that it can only be ploughed when in a state of moisture. By summer-fallowing, and the application of lime and other manure, it is, however, convertible into fine rich loam, and there are thousands of acres in the county of Ayr, which, by this mode of treatment, have been changed from sterile clay to the richest mould. Loam of alluvial formation is found in holms, on the sides of rivers, and in other low situations in different parts of the county, but this bears a small proportion to what has been converted into loam by human industry. There is a greater proportion of moss and moor ground than any other. The origin of the extensive mosses in Ayrshire may be traced to the overthrow of the forests which, we are informed from the earliest and most authentic history, at one time covered great tracts of land in Scotland. Forest-trees are frequently found lying many feet under ground, in the position in which they had been cut down by the earlier inhabitants. These trees, laid prostrate on the earth, extirpated all former vegetation, and moss earth has been formed from the aquatic plants introduced by the stagnation of water occasioned by such circumstances. Lochs of water of moderate depth have also grown into flow-mosses, by plants striking root in the bottom, when composed of earth or mud. The most common of those plants are marsh-fog, gouk-bear, drab-coloured fog, cotton-beads, and turfy club-rush. The following is the extent of the different kinds of soil in the county, according to Mr. Aiton:  

Clay soil,
— In the district of Carrick,10,000
— In Kyle,175,600
— In Cunningham,135,000
Sand or light soil,
— In Carrick,90,000
— In Kyle,41,000
— In Cunningham,16,000
Moss and moor ground,
— In Carrick,200,000
— In Kyle,93,000
— In Cunningham,54,000

Chalmers assigns to these different classes of soil the following proportions: clay soil 261,960 acres; sandy soil 120,110; moor lands 283,530. There are no extensive natural woods in Ayrshire, but a considerable quantity of copse-wood occurs on the banks of the rivers, and a large extent of ground in the lower parts of the county is now under rising plantations. 

   The mineralogy of Ayrshire is highly interesting, and capable of affording a wide field of study both to the geologist and agriculturist. The higher parts of Carrick abound in unmixed granite of a greyish colour: braccia, whinstone, greenstone, and red sandstone, are also found in the same district. Immense beds of coal have been discovered in different parts of the county. The coal-district of Scotland, which intersects the island from the Atlantic to the German ocean [North sea], runs through the centre of Ayrshire, from the shore to its inland verges. It commences on the south, in the strath of Girvan in Carrick, about 2 miles from the sea, runs up by Dalmellington and New Cumnock on the south side of Kyle, by Sanquhar in Nithsdale, and Douglas and Carnwith in Lanarkshire, and, being cut off by the heights of Lammermoor, terminates near North Berwick: it runs nearly in a line from the rock of Ailsa to that of the Bass. Cannel coal, of excellent quality, is found at Bedlar hill near Kilbirnie, and at Adamel hill, by Tarbolton. Blind coal – a species principally composed of carbon, and in which there is only a very small portion of bituminous matter – is obtained in great quantities, and many thousand tons of it are yearly exported to Ireland. It is chiefly used for drying grain or malt. Copper and lead have both been wrought, – the latter to some extent at Daleagles in New Cumnock. Gold is said to have been discovered in Ayrshire and dug by an Englishman, named Dodge, about the year 1700. A few specimens have been found in the hills of Carrick, of agates, porphyries, and calcareous petrifactions. Millstones are quarried near Kilbride; and a species of fire-stone near Auchinleck. Iron-stone is found in different parts of Carrick, and in the higher parts of Kyle. In the parish of Stair, antimony and molybdena have been found; and, in several parts of the county, that species of whetstone known by the name of Water-of-Ayr stone. Chalybeate springs – some of them strongly impregnated with sulphur – are found in almost every parish, but none of them present any thing peculiarly interesting. There are two springs in the parish of Maybole of uncommon magnitude. 

   In favourable seasons, ploughing commences in this county about the beginning of February. The rotation of crops differs widely in the different districts of Ayrshire. Wheat was seldom to be seen in this county beyond the limits of a nobleman’s farm previous to the year 1785; but it is now become common, and seldom fails to yield a valuable return. Rye is not often sown, except on the sandy ground near the shores, where small quantities have been; raised. Oats have always been the principal grain crops of Ayrshire. Peas and beans are also extensively sown. Turnips were first introduced by the earls of Eglinton and Loudon, about the middle of the last century, and they have subsequently been reared on almost every description of land; but, as in all other places, they grow to the best advantage on light dry soil. Swedish turnip is extensively cultivated. Potatoes are reared in great abundance, and to as good account as in any other county in Scotland. Clover is abundant. Ryegrass, though a native plant, remained unnoticed till about the year 1760, and it did not come into general use till about 1775. Only a small proportion of the surface of the county is occupied as meadow-land. The natural pasture – of which there is a considerable extent in the county – is devoted to the feeding and rearing of sheep. Much of the arable land also undergoes an alternation of crop and pasture; the greater part of the pasture is occupied with dairy stock, or other cattle fed in the district. The gardens and orchards of this county have long been objects of general admiration, from their extent, and the great taste with which they are laid out. At Eglinton there is one of the best-displayed policies in Ayrshire. Extensive woods, both copse and plantation, are thickly interspersed through many parts of the shire. – It would be a matter or some difficulty to ascertain at what period attention was first given, in this district, to the rearing of cattle. At all events it must have been remote, as the following adage, which was familiar to every grey-beard of the 17th century, shows: 

“Kyle for a man, 

Carrick for a cow, 

Cunningham for butter and cheese, 

And Galloway for woo!” 

The Galloway cattle are well-made and hardy; but the native dairy cows are now preferred as milkers, and are much more profitable to the farmer. About the year 1750, several cows and a bull – either of the Teeswater, or some other English breed – were sent to the Earl of Marchmont’s estates in Kyle, all of the high brown and white colour now so common in this county. It is probably from these or other similar mixtures that the red and white colours of the common stock were first introduced. In 1780, or a year or two previous, the opulent farmers in the parishes of Dunlop and Stewarton, made up their stocks of this breed; their example was followed by others, and the breed was gradually spread over Cunningham, Kyle, and Carrick. The size of the Ayrshire improved dairy cows varies from 20 to 40 stones English, according to the quality or abundance of their food. The most valuable quality which a dairy cow can possess is to yield an abundance of milk. Ten Scots pints per day is not thought uncommon for the Ayrshire breed; some give twelve or thirteen; and fourteen pints have been taken from a good cow in one day. The greater portion of the milk is manufactured into cheese, of which there are two kinds, – the common and the Dunlop cheese. The Rev. Mr. Brisbane, in the first Statistical account of Dunlop parish, says, that a woman of the name of Gilmour, who had fled to Ireland during the persecution, discovered, while in that kingdom, the method of manufacturing this celebrated kind of cheese; and that it was introduced by her into her native parish on her return in 1688. It is said, however, to have been known before that period; for long before the Revolution, the making of cheese of a superior quality was the chief excellence and particular boast of the Cunningham farmers. Sheep, chiefly of the black-faced kind, are bred in Ayrshire in considerable numbers. – Labourers’ wages average in this county from 9s. to 11s. per week. 

   Ayrshire is divided into three districts, or bailiages, which, though constantly occurring in history, and in the language of the country at this day, have no longer a separate legal existence: viz. Cunningham, Kyle, and Carrick. 

   CUNNINGHAM, in general a level and agreeable district of a triangular form and declining gradually towards the sea, is divided from Kyle by the Irvine, intersected by the Garnock, and watered by several streams of little note. Towards the confines of Renfrewshire, it rises into an assemblage of hills with intervening valleys. Along the sea-coast, and in the southern part of the district, there are tracts of tolerably flat and fertile soil. Its western angle, however, is mountainous, and the coast is rocky. This district comprehends 260 square miles, [Playfair,] and abounds in manufacturing towns and villages. 

   KYLE, the middle district, consisting of about 380 square miles, [Playfair,] lies between the river Doon and the Irvine, and is traversed from east to west by the Ayr, which divides it into King’s Kyle on the south, and Kyle Stewart on the north. Toward the confines of Lanark and Dumfries-shire, it is elevated, rugged, and covered with heath; but the midland and maritime tracts are agreeably diversified, well-cultivated, and planted with villages and seats. “Kyle, or Coil, having once been a forest, may have taken its name from that circumstance, the Celtic coill signifying ‘wood;’ but the natives, misled probably by the old chroniclers, derive it from Coilus, a British king, who is reported to have fallen in battle somewhere on the river Coil, and to have been buried either at Coylton or at Coilsfield. If such a personage ever existed, this does not appear to have been the scene either of his actions or of his misfortunes. The hill-country, towards the east, is bleak, marshy, uncultivated, and uninteresting; and on that side, except at one or two places, the district was formerly impervious. In advancing from these heights to the sea, the symptoms of fertility and the beneficial effects of cultivation, rapidly multiply; but there is no ‘sweet interchange of hill and valley,’ no sprightliness of transition, no bold and airy touches either to surprise or delight. There is little variety, or even distinctness of outline, except where the vermiculations of the river are marked by deep fringes of wood waving over the shelvy banks, or where the long and almost rectilineal summit of the Brown Carrick terminates abruptly in a rugged foreland; or where the multitudinous islands and hills beyond the sea exalt their colossal heads above the waves, and lend an exterior beauty to that heavy continuity of flatness, which, from the higher grounds of Kyle, appears to pervade nearly the whole of its surface. The slope, both here and in Cunningham, is pitted with numberless shallow depressions, which are surmounted by slender prominences, rarely swelling beyond the magnitude of hillocks or knolls. Over this dull expanse the hand of art has spread some exquisite embellishments, which in a great measure atone for the native insipidity of the scene, but which might be still farther heightened by covering many of these spaces with additional woods, free from the dismal intermixture of Scotch fir, – a tree which predominates infinitely too much all over the country, deforming what is beautiful, and shedding a deeper gloom on what is already more than sufficiently cheerless.” – [‘Edinburgh Encyclopædia,’ Article AYRSHIRE.] 

   CARRICK, the southern and most romantic district, including that portion of Ayrshire which lies to the south of the river Doon, and consisting of 399 square miles, [Playfair,] is in general mountainous, with some delightful valleys interspersed, and fertile declivities inclining towards the sea-coast. The two valleys watered by the Stinchar and the Girvan exhibit a wild and varied scenery which attracts the notice and excites the admiration of every traveller. 

   The manufactures of Ayrshire are important. The census of 1831 returned 8,000 males upwards of twenty years of age as being engaged throughout. Ayrshire in different branches of manufacture. The woollen manufacture has long existed in this district, especially at Kilmarnock, Ayr, Stewarton, and Dalry. In 1838 there were 18 woollen-mills within the county, employing 242 hands. – Linen has been more extensively manufactured in former years in Ayrshire than it is now. The chief localities of this manufacture are Kilbirnie and Beith. The number of flax-mills, in 1838, was 3, employing 172 hands. – The cotton manufacture has long been increasing, and is now prosecuted on a large scale. Its chief localities are Catrine, Kilbirnie, and Patna. The number of cotton-mills, in 1838, was 4; employing 703 hands. A considerable number of women are employed in embroidery. They make from 3s. 6d. to 6s. per week. There are extensive iron-works at Muirkirk and Glenbuck. The manufacture of wooden snuff-boxes affords occupation to about 120 hands. Trade has been greatly facilitated by the execution of good roads, and by the formation of several railroads, – one of which extends from Troon, point to Kilmarnock [see TROON]; another from Kilmarnock to Dalry; and another will unite Ayr, Irvine, and Dalry. The two latter are branches of the Glasgow and Ayr railway now executing. The completion of the line of railway betwixt Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock, and Ayr, will doubtless develope the resources of this shire, and open up many sources of additional traffic. Several extensive coal-fields have been already opened in the immediate neighbourhood of the line in this county. A company has been formed to build a steam-vessel to ply between Troon and Liverpool, as soon as the railway is opened; it being expected that many passengers from and to Glasgow will prefer to go on board or land at Troon or Ardrossan, and thus save the long and circuitous route by the river. Proposals have also been made to sail a steam-vessel between Ardrossan and Belfast; and some influential proprietors in the Western isles propose to start a steam-vessel for the purpose of conveying passengers, cattle, and produce from Skye, Mull, and the opposite mainland, to Troon or Ardrossan, whence the cattle can be conveyed by railway to the markets in Glasgow, and Paisley, and eventually to Edinburgh. The prospect of an English junction railway being formed from Kilmarnock to Carlisle is warmly entertained by the Ayrshire proprietors. See article, GLASGOW, PAISLEY, KILMARNOCK & AYR RAILWAY. – There are several canals of short length in different places of the county. A canal of 31 miles from Glasgow to Ardrossan has been long projected, though only about one-third of the length, – viz. from Glasgow to Johnstone – has yet been executed. – Previous to the late equalization of weights and measures, the Ayrshire potatoe boll was very arbitrary. The bushel contained 2 pecks; the pound of butter, hay, and meat, 24 oz. avoird.; and the stimpart, ¼ peck. 

   Ayrshire returns one member to parliament. The parliamentary constituency, in 1839-40, was 4,274. The two boroughs of Ayr and Irvine are associated as contributory burghs with three of the Argyleshire burghs; while Kilmarnock is a contributory burgh of the Renfrew district. The principal towns – to which as separate articles the reader is now generally referred for further information on various points respecting the trade, manufactures, history, and antiquities of this county – are ARDROSSAN, AYR, BEITH, GIRVAN, IRVINE, KILWINNING, LARGS, MAYBOLE, NEWTON-ON-AYR, SALTCOATS, and STEWARTON. To Ayrshire belong the island of LITTLE CUMBRAE, and AILSA CRAIG: which see. 

   The number of parishes in Ayrshire is 46; of which 16 are in the presbytery of Irvine; 28 in that of Ayr; and 2 in that of Stranraer. Ayrshire was formerly comprehended in the bishopric of Glasgow. – The number of parochial schools in 1834 was 46, under 62 teachers; of schools not parochial 225, under 241 teachers. The total number of scholars 14,800. – The population of the county, in 1801, was 84,306; in 1831, 145,100, in 30,501 families, of whom 6,967 families were chiefly employed in agriculture, and 15,193 in trades, handicrafts, and manufactures. The population was thus distributed: 


   The number of inhabited houses, in 1831, was 19,001; of uninhabited, 439. The valued rental, in 1674, was £191,605. Assessed property, in 1815, £409,983. Sir John Sinclair estimated the real rent, in 1796. at £112,752. In 1808 it was as follows: 

Royalty of Ayr,9,8550

   Throughout every part of Ayrshire are scattered the relics of former ages. Cairns, encampments, and druidical circles are numerous: see articles DUNDONALD, GALSTON, and SORN. Of ancient castles the most celebrated are LOCH DOON, TURNBERRY, PORTENCROSS, DUNDONALD and SORN: see these articles. The principal ecclesiastical ruins are those of the abbeys of CROSSRAGUEL and KILWINNING: which also see. The most ancient families of Ayrshire are the Auchinlechs, Boswells, Boyds, Cathcarts, Crawfords, Cunninghams, Dalrymples, Dunlops, Fullartons, Kennedys, Lindsays, Montgomerys, and Wallaces. Of the titles of nobility connected with this county, the earldom of Carrick, now merged in the Crown, is the oldest. The earldom of Glencairn was created in 1488; that of Eglinton in 1503; that of Cassillis in 1509; those of Loudon and Dumfries in 1633; and of Dundonald in 1669. 

   Ayrshire was inhabited in Roman times by the Damnii and the Novantes. After the abdication of the Romans, this district became a part of the Cumbrian kingdom. During the Saxon heptarchy Kyle became subject to the kings of Northumbria. The Saxons maintained themselves in this district for many centuries, and have left numerous traces of their presence here. In 1221 the sheriffdom of Ayr was elected. In the wars of Wallace and Bruce, Ayrshire was the scene of numerous conflicts with the English. During the religious persecutions under the last of the Stuarts the men of Ayrshire distinguished themselves by their struggles for the maintenance of the rights of conscience; and were punished for their contumacy by having ‘the Highland host’ quartered upon them in 1678. “We might from these circumstances,” says Chalmers, “suppose that the people of Ayrshire would concur zealously in the Revolution of 1688. As one of the western shires, Ayrshire sent its full proportion of armed men to Edinburgh to protect the convention of Estates. On the 6th of April, 1689, the forces that had come from the western counties, having received thanks from the convention for their seasonable service they immediately departed with their arms to their respective homes. They were offered some gratification; but they would receive none; saying that they came to save and serve their country, but not to enrich themselves at the nation’s expense. It was at the same time ordered, ‘that the inhabitants of the town of Ayr should be kept together till further orders.’ On the 14th of May, arms were ordered to be given to Lord Bargeny, an Ayrshire baronet. On the 25th of May, in answer to a letter from the Earl of Eglinton, the convention ordered, ‘that the heritors and fencible men in the shire of Ayr be instantly raised and commanded in conformity to the appointment of the Estates.’ But of such proofs of the revolutionary principles of Ayrshire enough! The men of Ayr not only approved of the Revolution; but they drew their swords in support of its establishment and principles. On that memorable occasion the governors were not only changed; but new principles were adopted and better practices were introduced: and the Ayrshire people were gratified, by the abolition of episcopacy, and by the substitution of presbyterianism in its room, which brought with it its old maxims of intolerance and its invariable habit of persecution.” – [Caledonia, vol. iii. pp. 473, 474.] The singular assertion with which this extract closes requires no refutation from us. It is but a proof of the amazing obliquity of perception with which otherwise shrewd minds are sometimes afflicted, even on points where facts as well as all history and respectable testimony are against them.

1  Nothing can be more perplexing than the discrepancies which prevail amongst topographers as to the altitude of mountains. Thus we have Playfair assigning three different admeasurements to Knockdolion, viz. 2,091, 1,950, and 650 feet; while Chambers states the altitude of that hill at 2,000 feet; and Webster at 1,950 feet.

Exit mobile version